AT long last, the Punjab Government was able to present its budget for the financial year 2022-23 which has widely been described as ‘pro-poor and pro development’.
The new budget presented by Provincial Finance Minister Awais Leghari has a total outlay of Rs 3,226 billion and envisages significant allocations of Rs 685 billion for Annual Development Plan (ADP) besides a special focus on the initiatives for the downtrodden and overcoming inflation.
It was unfortunate that for the first time the budget could not be presented on the announced date and it was finally unveiled two days later at a different venue due to the obstructionist attitude of Speaker of the Assembly Ch Pervez Elahi, who wanted to settle personal scores misusing his powers and authority.
However, the provincial government made a smart move to clear the legal and procedural hurdles created by the Speaker and the Opposition.
The latest controversy sent a clear message that the Opposition in the Provincial Assembly was hell-bent not to allow the Punjab Government to function smoothly and it was not bothered even if it meant derailing of the crucial budgetary process.
Anyhow, the Punjab Government deserves credit for presenting budgetary proposals that reflect aspirations of the people and are aimed at resolving day-to-day problems of the masses.
It is also significant that the budget does not propose any new tax which itself is a relief for the people whose life has been made miserable due to record inflation.
However, tax rates on large luxury houses have been revised upwards; stamp duty rates have also been enhanced from 1 per cent to 2 per cent besides reducing sales tax on a few services.
The Punjab Government has also announced up to 30% increase in the salaries of its employees including 15% hike in salaries on the pattern of the Federal Government and another 15% disparity allowance for employees of some ministries and departments besides a 5% increase in pension.
It is, however, regrettable that practical implementation of the decision to grant disparity allowance is creating more disparities in pay and allowances as discriminatory treatment is meted out to employees of some departments.
The decision to merge adhoc increases would benefit employees in the long run.
The development budget of Rs683 billion is the highest ever in the province with 40% share for South Punjab and developmental activities would surely create economic and employment opportunities in the length and breadth of the province.
Education gets an increased allocation of Rs.485 billion, 10% higher than outgoing year while allocations for the health sector have been increased by 26% to Rs.470 billion.
It is all the more important to note that provision of medicines at OPDs of Government hospitals has been restored including free provision of medicines for cancer, which is, indeed, a genuine relief for poor patients.
In order to mitigate the sufferings of the people on account of price-hike, the province has allocated Rs.200 billion for subsidy on wheat flour as people would get 10-kg wheat flour bag at Rs.490 as against the market price of Rs.690.
In addition, a sum of Rs142 billion has been earmarked for providing other edibles at subsidized rates, providing subsidy on public transport and fertilizers to farmers at concessional rates.
The budget has the potential to bring about a major socio-economic change in the life of the people provided budgetary proposals are implemented in letter and in spirit.